Yes, even gardeners should be thankful when it snows

You may be surprised to find out that the white stuff can be beneficial to the winter garden.

If you are like me, you woke up on Monday with 8 to 10 inches of snow covering virtually everything in the garden.

Somewhere underneath all that white stuff are my blooming hellebores, snow drops and budded daffodils.

You might ask: “Is all lost?” Hardly! Mother Nature is a lot more resilient than that. While my perennials may be bent, they are most likely not broken. In fact, they are probably snug as a bug in a rug under that blanket of snow. Once everything thaws out, they will pop right back up again.

As it turns out, snow is much more beneficial for the garden than it is detrimental. Here are some things to consider.

Snow insulates. Snow is an amazing insulator, so long as you don’t disturb it. Rule No. 1 is to leave snow alone in the garden. The light, fluffy structure of newly fallen snow is much like that spun fiberglass insulation that we put between the 2-by-4s in our homes. A 6 inch or more covering of snow can add 5 to 10 degrees to the surface soil temperatures — and be the difference between life and death for tender plants.

The only time I remove snow is when it is weighing down my evergreen shrubs and causing them to splay out. With everything else, I just leave it in place and pretend I have a garden full of snow cones. It’s kind of a novel look that I have often thought of enhancing with the aid of some food coloring. Alas, my wife always squashes the idea. The term “party pooper” comes to mind.

It’s loaded with nutrients. Another benefit of snow is the nutrition value. It is actually known as poor man’s fertilizer because of the nitrogen it contains. As snow falls, it removes nitrogen from the atmosphere and, over time, that nitrogen gets converted into nitrates that plants can absorb and use for growth. I have personally noticed how much greener my lawn looks after a snowfall, and it is due to the addition of nitrogen.

It brings out the color in your garden. Probably one of my favorite benefits of snow is the magical scene it creates. Plants like red twig dogwoods and coral bark maples seem to just come alive, their vibrant colored stems offering a striking contrast to the pure white background of the snow. Even dormant ornamental grasses can take on a whole new personality in the presence of snow.

Snow, of course, does have some drawbacks. If it hangs around too long, it will block out too much light, which can cause plants to rot. Voles and rabbits might also tunnel underneath it and gnaw on the bark of shrubs and trees. In the garden center, we have to remove snow from the greenhouse roofs. It’s a huge chore, but at least we get a good workout in the process.

All in all, it’s a treat to get snow in our area. We should learn to enjoy it. Granted, it makes driving a challenge and there is virtually nothing we can do in the garden while it is on the ground, but it does help to generate a festive feeling about life — a sort of mood enhancer.

I even had a neighbor walk by the other day and, tongue in cheek, wish me Merry Christmas. So go on, make a snowman and have some fun with this rare weather event.

Don’t worry about the garden; it will be fine. Just make sure you stay off the lawn and out of the beds until it melts.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

Hellebores & terrariums

Attend two classes next weekend at Sunnyside Nursery: One on growing hellebores is 10 a.m. Feb. 16 and another on making your own terrarium is at 11 a.m. Feb. 17, at the garden center, 3915 Sunnyside Blvd., Marysville. For more information or to sign up, visit www.sunnysidenursery.net.

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